Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Yingying Zhang Case...


Newest updates are at the top in reverse chronological order...
Sorry the more extended post below has become a bit messy/disorganized by now, but don’t have time to reorganize it.
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9/8:  Brendt Christensen's current attorneys were taken off the case (at their request, due to lack of funds of the defendent), and a public defender was assigned to Christensen. It's also rumored that before the end of October the Feds will bring an indictment for murder against Christensen (currently he is still only charged with kidnapping). Still no word of Yingying Zhang's body.
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6pm. EDT. 8/28: At today's pre-trial hearing the start date for Brendt Christensen's trial was moved from Sept. 12 to Feb. 27 of next year. This is probably almost incomprehensible to Yingying's family and friends back in China. So much for the 'Constitutional right to a speedy trial' ;(
It is possible that before then, additional charges (beyond kidnapping) will be brought and presented to another grand jury.
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4pm. EDT. 8/22: Still following this case in hopes of greater resolution. Yingying Zhang's family and boyfriend (all staying in Champaign) held a heartbreaking hour-long news conference today, wishing for more progress, but essentially having nothing new to report that hasn't already been reported publicly. They both made statements and took questions-and-answers, and plan to remain in the U.S. as long as it takes to find Yingying. Must be very difficult for them to comprehend the workings of the American legal and criminal system. Still no news on Yingying's body/remains? If video of the conference becomes available on the Web I'll link to it here. [ it is now here: 
Meanwhile, I assume the pre-trial hearing scheduled for August 28 will go on as scheduled, though won't be surprised if defense attorneys ask for a delay.
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6pm. EDT, 7/20: At Brendt Christensen's arraignment today the suspect (as expected) pled 'not guilty.' A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for August 28, before a start date for the trial of September 12. There was no further news about the crime itself, nor the search for Yingying Zhang's body.
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6pm. EDT, 7/19: Just a reminder that tomorrow the arraignment of Christensen takes place (3pm. in Urbana, IL.). I presume, in line with previous indications, that he will plead ‘not guilty’ to kidnapping and related charges (no murder charge brought as yet). I’m assuming it’s too early for any plea bargaining to have occurred yet, but I don’t know that much about legal procedures, so will update tomorrow once we know more.
Still no news of official searches for Yingying Zhang, let alone finding her body. Her distraught parents remain in the U.S. (from China) awaiting any further outcome to this sad, senseless case.
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4:30pm. EDT, 7/14:  In a morning news conference, Champaign CrimeStoppers with the Zhang family officially announced that the reward for information leading to Yingying Zhang was raised to $50,000 (also the FBI has its own separate reward). No real additional news given.
This week the FBI took Zhang’s name off its “missing persons” listing, indicating how strongly they must feel their knowledge of her demise is (a person ‘in absentia’ is more normally dropped from a missing persons’ listing after 7 years, not a few weeks).
I have my own scenario in mind now of how this crime played out, and where the victim’s body may be, but purely speculative on my part so no need to spell out. But I do hope police don’t let another week go by without an update. And again, Christensen's official arraignment is set for next Thursday, July 20th. (I'm also a bit curious as to whether prison guards have him under any sort of suicide watch?)
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5pm. EDT, 7/12: Today, a Federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Brendt Christensen with kidnapping visiting scholar Yingying Zhang; arraignment yet to be scheduled, but the originally-scheduled July 14th preliminary hearing is now cancelled.
Search for Zhang's body presumably continues. [ADDENDUM: according to Chicago Tribune article, arraignment is now scheduled for July 20, where Christensen will enter a plea (previously rumored he would plead innocent).]
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8pm. EDT, 7/9:  Well, I was wrong on that (prior) hunch… NO significant news released over weekend thus far. Plenty of speculation and ideas swirling around the Web about this strange case, but I’ll probably wait for some sort of official, substantive info before posting news here.
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9pm. EDT, 7/6:  nothing of significance to add today, except that press has been told that the accused will plead innocent at preliminary hearing; not at all unusual early on. I'll be surprised if this case gets through the weekend without some major further break or the victim's body being found (but merely a hunch on my part). Oh, and Brendt Christensen is now being jailed in my old hometown of all places, about an hour from Champaign-Urbana.
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5pm. EDT 7/5:  Latest local news article (with some new information) following another brief hearing for Brendt Christensen (in which he was denied bail). It is possible he will enter a plea at a July 14th hearing:
Still no recovery of the victim's body.
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5:30pm EDT 7/4:  Not that this really means anything, but just learned that Christensen graduated about 4 yrs. ago (undergraduate) as a double major in physics and math at the University of Wisconsin/Madison. So, in some weird sense maybe this case isn't as completely unrelated to this blog as I've previously said!
There will be another court hearing for Christensen tomorrow afternoon, though doubtful we'll learn much new.
And still no word of active searches for the victim Yingying Zhang...?

morning 7/3:  At a 9-minute hearing today Brendt Christensen was read his rights and was represented by a Champaign law firm, with additional hearings scheduled for July 5 and 14th. No pleas or new information given.
Also, stiiiiiiiiill no information on the search for Yingying Zhang's body.
There are MANY more pertinent links (including Christensen’s social media postings) to this case by now, but I won’t link to more at this point unless there is a major new development in the case. Having said that, I will leave this post up for awhile because there remain several oddities about the case that need resolving before assuming the story is known. (Once I’m satisfied the story, though obviously not the trial, is largely over, I’ll likely scrap this post from the blog.)
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[below are the "updates" from 6/27 to 7/2]:


==> UPDATE!!!! (5pm. EDT, 6/27):  The black Saturn Astra described below HAS now been located by law enforcement; Ms. Zhang has not been found at this time (not much more info currently being given, but hopefully later tonight we'll know more):

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6 am. EDT, 6/28: No further news overnight in the case. The official (somewhat oddly-worded) FBI statement on finding the vehicle is HERE. They have the car but continue to seek public help in their search for the suspect and Zhang. No news even, on where the car was found, or in what condition. Hope we'll know more today.

9pm. EDT, 6/28: Over 24 hours since FBI announced finding the black Astra, yet no further details or information given on this crime. No sign of Yingying Zhang. All very strange. Still hoping for a good outcome in days ahead.
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noon EDT, 6/29: Oddly, stiiiiiiill nothing new being reported, and for more reasons than I’ll report, the case seems increasingly peculiar. The resolution, positive or negative, may not be what people expect.

9:30pm EDT, 6/29:  No more news today. CNN did run this story on the case this morning (but nothing new that wasn’t already known):
(While newspapers have had some coverage of the crime, national TV and radio have carried remarkably little about it. Strange.)
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8:30pm EDT, 6/30: Still nothing new today from officials on the case. We're now at the 3-week point since the alleged kidnapping.
If no news by tomorrow morning, I may continue with a new post tomorrow about some of what I find odd.

==>BREAKING:  9:30pm EDT, 6/30: Wow, local (Illinois) news reporting Brendt Christensen, 27, at Stonegate Apts. in Champaign arrested for kidnapping of Zhang who at this moment has not been found, and very sad to report, "law enforcement agents believe that Ms. Zhang is no longer alive." Await confirmation of all information.
Turns out suspect is a grad student in "condensed matter physics." [correction: he graduated in May with his Master's degree, and left the PhD. program]
The full "criminal complaint" (with several details leading to his arrest) against Christensen is here:
This site/page summarizes much of the info from the criminal complaint, as well as having additional material about Christensen:
http://heavy.com/news/2017/06/brendt-christensen-yingying-zhang-brent-facebook-photos-suspect/

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5am. EDT, 7/2: recent timeline article from the local News-Gazette newspaper:
http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2017-07-01/now-it’s-creepy-how-he-walked.html

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[the original blogpost, from 6/27/17, below]:

A major diversion today:
Wouldn’t normally use the blog for such a purpose (especially given how many unsolved crimes are out there), but a recent assumed broad-daylight kidnapping at the University of Illinois (where several of my friends attended) and near where I grew up, has grabbed my attention. 
If you’re not aware of it, it is the Yingying Zhang case; a Chinese visiting scholar who disappeared on June 9th and has not been seen since, but was last viewed on camera getting into a black Saturn Astrathe one below:


This model car was only produced a couple of years (~2008-9) and there can’t be all that many still on the road (relative to other car models). Be on the lookout for it! (by now an abductor could be far, far away from the point of the crime, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois; and could've also changed vehicles for that matter).
You can call 911 or Champaign Crimestoppers: 217-373-8477 or the FBI numbers: 217-522-9675 or 800-CALL-FBI with any information... SOMEone out there must know this individual (white male).
This is a high-priority case for the FBI with a major reward.

Here’s one news story on the crime (obviously you can google for much more):  

Surprised at how little national news coverage this case has received (I only learned of it myself by chance on the Web). The crime is already over two weeks old, so time is of the essence. One can only imagine the agony for Yingying's parents who've come here from China to aid in any way they can (a GoFundMe campaign on their behalf has surpassed its initial goal).
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....On a complete (less serious) side-note:  at one crime website, I noticed a commenter bemoaning that since discussing this case they were now getting repeated ads for Saturn Astras on their computer screen! ...can’t help but shake my head; this is what the supposedly vaunted algorithms of Facebook, Google etc. bring to our attention! I’ve complained before that most (by which I mean 98%+) of the digital ads I get are of no interest (or even antithetical) to me! yet someone is paying Web powerhouses big (wasted) bucks to annoy me with them. Unlike some folks, I’m not that opposed to advertising, but how about turning me on to products/services I’m actually seeking, instead of turning me OFF to products/companies. 
So just to be clear, something I have NO interest in purchasing is a: black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra, black Saturn Astra. 
Good (instead of lazy-ass) algorithms are hard to write, but it is possible.

Returning to a serious note, please help to solve this case if you can.  Law enforcement is very tight-lipped about their progress on the crime (one hopes they know much more by now than they are saying), but certainly continues to seek input from the public.
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ADDENDUM:  I’ll add further notes here as I think warranted:

1)  Obviously, folks should probably take note of any black Saturn Astras suddenly being put up for private sale recently… or, any being re-painted, or otherwise altered in appearance.

2)  The perpetrator in this case may have already ditched the vehicle, but IF still driving it, must be stopping for gas on occasion, and other necessities… gas stations, grocery stores, Walmarts, are among locales to be on lookout for the vehicle.


3)  Some additional webpages:

Two Twitter feeds with news:

The Univ. of Illinois Police Dept. website may be the best place to get ‘official’ updates on the investigation:
They also have a Facebook page here: 


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